Among the tools that healthy homes advocates have at
their service are state and (sometimes) local tenant-landlord laws. These laws
may provide some or all of the following for tenants: remedies for bad conditions,
privacy protections, protection from landlord retaliation, protection for the
right to organize and/or protection from exorbitant rent increases.
Tenants' rights laws supplement other laws (the federal
lead disclosure rule, state and local housing and/or building codes, state or
local environmental protection laws and state and/or local lead poisoning prevention
laws) that also may provide leverage for your efforts to improve substandard
housing and protect residents.
Tenants can exercise their rights far more effectively
if they organize to do so collectively. Often tenants live in multi-unit buildings
or complexes. Sometimes, the landlord of a problem building owns other problems
buildings in the neighborhood. There’s safety and power in numbers. The
larger the group of tenants working together for improvements, the more likely
tenants will win.
Tenants' rights laws vary greatly from place to place.
In some states they are virtually nonexistent; in other places they may be your
most potent tools. It’s a good idea to become familiar with your local
tenant-landlord laws and establish relationships with experts and civil legal
advocates who may be able to assist you with interpretation and/or take on cases
on behalf of tenants. If your organization is unfamiliar with tenant-landlord
law and tenant organizing, you may want to try to collaborate with an organization
that has more experience in this area.
In some states and cities, specific statutes and laws are
on the books covering these issues. In many places, tenants rights are provided
through common law, or court cases. In any case, how the laws are enforced is
just as important as the laws themselves. Enforcement is not something that’s
frozen in place forever; it can be improved by your advocacy and organizing
Educating the tenants with whom you work about their rights
helps them realistically weigh the potential gains and risks of getting involved
in your advocacy campaigns. Often knowledge reduces fear about standing up for
one’s rights. And having information also makes it more likely that tenants
will follow proper procedures and exercise their rights to the maximum extent
This section of the website has two main parts. These sections
borrow heavily from fact sheets developed by Jean Zotter at the Boston Urban
Asthma Coalition and from the Tenants
Union of Washington State's website.
– This section provides more detail about how state and local tenants'
rights laws are related to healthy housing and where to get more information
and assistance about these laws.
Organizing – This section provides nuts-and-bolts information
about tenant organizing and links to other tenant organizing resources.